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hazelinok

peppermint soap and aphids

hazelinok
7 years ago

My beautiful Brandywine tomatoes have aphids. Or at least I THINK they're aphids. They're not the light green ones, but little white ones. Anyway...I mixed up a bottle of water and Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap. I seem to remember reading something about Dr. Bronner's and aphids. Wondering if the peppermint variety was a mistake. It's what I had on hand as I love anything minty. Does anyone have any experience with using this mixture?

Comments (12)

  • AmyinOwasso/zone 6b
    7 years ago

    You don't need much soap in those mixtures. I think Dawn always recommends you purchase a mix like Garden Safe brand (what I have) or such. If you use the home made test it on a small part or just one plant to see if it burns the plant. These recipes call for only a few drops of soap. I have not used these, but I have a friend who swears by garlic spray. She might even add hot pepper to hers. garden sprays. I doubt the peppermint will matter.

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  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    Thanks, Amy. It's too late. I probably added too much soap and sprayed it this evening already.

    I don't think they are fuzzy but they are so small. Maybe I'll take my reading glasses down tomorrow and look at them closely.

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I use Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap, but not on garden plants. The way I use it is to mix 1 tablespoon (all Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps are highly concentrated) with a quart of water and spray it where ants have made a trail through the yard. I do this because sometimes the red harvester ants make a trail that runs right beside the outdoor water faucet in the side yard, and then whenever anyone is at the water faucet, the ants climb up on them and bite them. The ants follow a chemical trail left by other ants, so if you spray the Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap spray on the trail, it messes with their sense of smell and they cannot find and follow the scent trail. They move and travel somewhere else not close to the faucet. And, if you have ants coming into the house when the ground outdoors is wet, you can spray the peppermint spray around the foundation of the house and that usually solves the ant problem.

    I doubt that it would hurt to use Dr. Bronner's on the tomato plants for aphids as long as you do not mix it too strongly and as long as you do not spray the plant foliage in hot weather. It is, in fact, recommended for that use in Lisa Bronner's blog and on the website of a water utility district. However, both those places may not have the combination of high temperatures, high humidity and intense sunlight that we have in Oklahoma. Largely, this is where issues develop: soap sprays, especially homemade ones, can burn plant foliage (especially tomato plant foliage) when sprayed at temperatures above 80 degrees. Many factors are involved, including how hot the weather is, how intense the sunlight is, and even the size of the mist droplets that you spray (I believe smaller and finer mist is better than larger droplets). Also, some soap sprays can burn foliage if used in conjunction with some other products that also are sprayed on plants, even if they are sprayed on different days. I have seen so many people kill the foliage on their tomato plants by spraying with a soap spray that I almost never recommend it. I suspect sometimes people get carried away and spray way too much of it (on the theory that if a little is good, than a lot is even better, which isn't necessarily true) or spray it in conditions that are far too hot.

    One thing to remember is that soap is also a herbicide---the difference in using it as a pesticide versus a herbicide is merely that a weaker solution is sprayed to kill pests and a stronger solution is sprayed to kill plants. Never forget that.

    If I am going to use a soap spray in my garden, I use Safer brand Insecticidal soap and I always follow the label directions exactly. I'm pretty picky about what I spray on my plants (especially my tomato plants) and I always and forever will use a commercial soap spray versus a homemade one. The commercial sprays are formulated in a very specfic way to be as safe as possible for use on plants, and homemade ones are not. Having said that, if someone wants to make and use their own homemade soap spray, it is always much safer to use a castille soap like Dr. Bronner's (I love all the Dr. Bronner's soaps and use several of them here around the house for various things) than to use a dish detergent like Dawn dish detergent. Remember that Dawn dish detergent is a detergent and not a soap, first and foremost. Also, it contains Triclosan, which I believe has no place in my garden (or home).

    Usually, with aphids, if you are patient, the lady bugs or other beneficial insects will show up and eat them. They always do in my garden, but you have to leave the aphid population alone and let it build up to a large enough population that the lady bugs will lay eggs, and then their larvae will devour the aphids. If you kill off all the aphids, the lady bugs look around, decide there is nothing there for their future children to eat, and they fly away looking elsewhere for a pest population that is large enough to feed their future larvae, and that is where they will lay their eggs. I know it is hard to be patient in the garden and while you're being patient, the aphids may spread some diseases....but you cannot have it both ways. If you want lady bugs in the garden eating aphids, you have to leave the aphids alone and let the lady bugs find them and eat them.

    Finally, be very careful to ensure you are not overfeeding your plants nitrogen. Plants that are overfed nitrogen (whether it is via the use of fertilizer or the addition of too much nitrogen during pre-planting soil amending) are very, very prone to have huge insect issues, and particularly aphids. If I see a plant with aphids on it, the first thing I ask myself is whether I put too much nitrogen in that part of the garden. I believe that what happens is that plants which are overfed nitrogen produce more carbs and then those carbs make those specific plants extra attractive to certain pests like aphid). However, sometimes aphids do just show up and it isn't because of anything you did. I have a row of southern peas that look perfectly fine. They all were grown from seed from the same packet, and they are planted in one straight row along the edge of a bed. One of them, and only one, had a huge aphid outbreak. It is hard to guess what it was about one plant that attracted aphids, but I put a ladybug on that plant and the dozens and dozens of aphids were gone a couple of days later. I assume the lady bug ate them. Sometimes you see something like that in the garden and just have to accept you'll never know why it happened, only that it did happen.

    Dawn

  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    Thanks, Dawn.

    I got a little anxious last night. My squash, potatoes, and green beans either have blight or are stunted for some other reason--no food coming from them except small potatoes. So, to find the tomatoes attacked by aphids (or whatever) was too much. I panicked and started spraying. The plants are still alive, but I can tell the leaves where I sprayed are different.

    We had many ladybugs until recently, but just a few now. And they don't seem to be able to keep up with whatever those little bugs are.

    Not sure about too much nitrogen. Don't think that's a problem, but I could be wrong. I was worried about too much mulchy type of stuff in my beds--like sticks and stuff that wasn't completely broken down in my compost. I thought that sort of material stole nitrogen from the soil. I did add fish emulsion once when I first planted the tomatoes (and an organic fertilizer, but haven't added anything at all since then.

    Change of subject. What do you use for dish soap? Do you use Dr. Bronners? I like their products too, but have found that they don't suds up much at all and I feel like my dishes don't get clean. Part of the problem is our very hard well water..probably. With our remodel, we are putting in a water softener.

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    7 years ago

    I use Seventh Generation Natural Dish Liquid for washing dishes in the sink. It is hypoallergenic, non-toxic, biodegreable and septic system safe. The one I have right now has a Lavender/Floral/Mint Scent. When washing dishes in the dishwasher, I just use whatever we find at CostCo, usually Finish, but sometimes Cascade. We have hard water too. I use the Dr. Bronner's lavender soap for myself for handwashing and such. That, and a bar of Lava Soap for dirty, dirt-stained gardening hands. Nothing cleans hands of gardening grime better than gritty lava soap.

    If your plants are not thriving and because you mentioned there is too much mulchy stuff in your gardens, it may be that they actually aren't getting enough nitrogen. You might want to feed them.

    There is a misconception about organic gardening that often leads new gardeners to underfeed their plants in the early years. When you have a new organic garden and your soil is recently amended (or if it is recently imported soil if you bought a mix to fill beds), then the biological life in the soil is often at a low-level (or nonexistent) in the beginning. You may not yet have enough of the microbes that are needed to break down the organic fertilizer into components that plants can use. Sometimes it can take several years to get the biological life in the soil to that point. (I try to do it more quickly than that by bringing in lots of well-rotted wood and leaf mold from our woodland). One way to increase the biological activity in the soil is by using Espoma organic plant foods because they do contain some of the bacteria your soil needs, but they are not enough alone in most new gardens in the very early years. You also can stimulate biological activity by using manure tea, compost tea, liquid molasses, or by scattering dry molasses in the soil. All of these will help, as will adding lots or compost, but it still can take years to get organic garden soil functioning as well as the plants need. So, in the beginning, if the biological activity in the soil is too low to break down organic fertilizers into components your plants can use, you actually may need to use a quick-release synthetic fertilizer like liquid Miracle Grow or a slower-acting pelleted general purpose garden fertilizer like Peters or Osmocote in order to get your plants adequate nutrition. It took me a while to learn this with my own garden. You will reach a point where the organic, well-amended soil is enough on its own, as long as you keep adding organic matter. We're in our 18th year here now and I still add as much organic matter to my garden as I can each and every year, and I do it virtually year-round. The soil we have now is so much better than the soil we had 5 or 10 years ago, and is light years ahead of the soil we started out with, but in order to keep it that way, we have to constantly feed the soil more and more organic matter.

    There was a point where I did finally realize which beds had reached a certain point and were functioning the way organic soil should, and some beds took longer than others to get to that point. That's partly my fault because I didn't amend each bed in exactly the same way since I was always trying to scrounge up and use whatever I could find. So, one bed might have gotten lots of cow manure in the first few years, but maybe a different one got tons of compost and another one might not have had as much compost or cow manure, but it got tons of oak leaf mold from the woods. I just kept working away at it, bed by bed (and still do), trying to develop the healthiest, most biologically active soil possible. We have built the raised beds slowly, at the rate of about one per year since moving here, so there's always raised beds that are newer and not as far along as the other raised beds, and sometimes those beds still need some synthetic fertilizer to kick start them in their early years. For example, this year we added a third raised potato bed and barely got it done in time to plant potatoes, so that bed got Osmocote incorporated into the soil/compost blend pre-planting time, and those potato plants still didn't get as big and lush as the ones in the more well-established beds, and I didn't expect them to. Eventually, the soil in that bed will catch up with the others, but it is going to take a lot of compost to get it to that point.

    If you try to use only organic fertilizers before the soil has enough biological activity to break them down, then the plants will remain stunted and will produce poorly. It is a terrible conundrum, to have to supplement with synthetic fertilizers in the early years, but it is what it is. The same thing is true in containers, only it is even harder to ever get the soil-less mix in the containers to the point that they break down and use organic fertilizers properly. I have worked hard to make that happen and it works for me only if I use really large containers (20 gallons or larger) and if I put big chunks of half rotted wood in the container to fill up the bottom half of it. I usually find an almost totally rotted dead tree trunk in the woods in the winter and we cut it into pieces and fill up the bottoms of containers with those pieces. Then we use a good soil-less mix. I used to mix up my own with organic ingredients, but that got old fast, so now I just buy one and dump it into the containers on top of the old rotted wood, and so far I haven't had to use any supplemental synthetic fertilizers in those containers. I always had some homemade compost to the soil-less mix, and often dry molasses and other organic matter as well.

    When plants are stunted, there is a reason, and in a new garden that is being gardened organically, a common reason is what I just described above. Organic gardening can involve a long journey to get to the point that the soil works well organically.

    Dawn

  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    Aphid molt! That's those white things I was seeing. Someone posted a pic on fb.

    I pulled up the peas today (they weren't thriving and I thought they had a sickness, but the number of aphids that fell off them was amazing--didn't know they were there. I squirted them with the soap water and killed most of them, but a few escaped onto the pepper plants. Then I noticed ladybug nymphs chasing them down onto the pepper plants. I hope they do their job and my pepper plants survive.

    Yeah. The Dr. Bronner's soap water burned my tomatoes. Do you think they will survive or are they goners? Anyone have any experience with this?

    So, in the past week I've used 3 products I've never used in the garden. 1. fungicide 2. soap water 3. miracle grow liquid fertilizer.

    Thanks for the suggestion on fertilizing, Dawn. I gave everything that looked stunted a drink of fertilizer. Maybe it will help. On compost, it seems my compost is often a little chunky when I use it. Is that helping the soil or hurting it?

    Cottonseed hull? Thoughts?

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    7 years ago

    Hazel, Hmmm, I have rarely seen aphid molt. I guess the ladybugs eat them before they live long enough to molt. Honestly, we have almost too many ladybugs--they try to come into the house to overwinter. I let them stay in the mudroom but they cannot come any further into the house or I vacuum them up and dump them back outdoors, so instead they overinter in the insulated barn-style garage and in the greenhouse, which is great since I have some plants overwintering in the greenhouse every year. I feel like once you get a good ladybug population established (and it has begun...because you have ladybugs in the garden), the aphids are a very brief problem and then the ladybugs gobble them up and that is that.

    If the damage to the foliage is not too extensive, the tomato plants will put out new foliage within the next couple of weeks and should survive. If the the damage is too severe, they won't. It really is a case of just waiting and watching and seeing what happens. I'm sorry the homemade soap spray damaged your tomato plants. I see that all the time here in southern OK, even as early as March if we are having high temperatures in the 90s, which happens occasionally (we even hit the 90s on a day or two in February this year). Our sunlight and heat are just too intense for homemade soap sprays to be successfully used without a high risk of damage, especially on tomato foliage which is very tender and easily damaged by many things.

    If I have to use insecticidal soap at all, I use a commercially prepared one. They are made in a way that their droplets of soap are smaller and less likely to damage anything. Still, because soaps can cause damage, I rarely use a soap spray when we are hitting highs any higher than 80 degrees, and I rarely use one in the sunshine. If I have to use soap sprays, I use them in the evening after the garden is shaded by adjacent trees, and I don't use them often. I can, in fact, go years without using a soap spray. Really, with most insects, if I cannot handpick and drown them, snip them in half with scissors, or kill them with an organic bait (like SlugGo Plus for snails, slugs, pillbugs, sowbugs and cutworms or Semaspore for grasshopper nymphs), I just leave them alone and let them be about 99.9% of the time. If I am patient, the beneficial insects, toads, frogs, birds, lizards, turtles, etc. will eat a majority of the pest insects for me. Some things, like stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs are hard to catch and kill and I don't like to spray broad-spectrum insecticides (not even organic ones), so I just do the best I can with those. Sometimes I can snip a stink bug or leaf-footed bug in half with my garden scissors, but a lot of the time they get away from me. With the similar squash bugs, I keep a lint roller in my garden tool bucket and roll it over them, picking them up with it. Then I quickly peel that part of the lint roller paper off the roller and wrap it around them, firmly entrapping them, and I put them in a trash can with a lid so they cannot escape if they somehow manage to get free of the lint roller paper.

    Rainy years are always more challenging. I haven't used Miracle Grow on any plants yet, but I wouldn't hesitate to use it if the constant rainfall starts keeping the plants from taking up nutrients with their roots. Sometimes a good foliar feeding will help struggling plants, whether you use MG, Liquid Kelp, Fish Emulsion, Compost Tea, Garrett Juice (more as a plant tonic than a fertilizer) or whatever. Once your soil is more well-established and has the right level of biological activity in the soil, your organic fertilizers will be adequate to support great plant health, growth and productivity most years.

    There's a terrific book by Jeff Gilman about what truly works in organic gardening. It is called "The Truth About Organic Gardning: Benefits, Drawbacks and The Bottom Line". I really like this book. It was published in 2008 but I didn't read it until a couple of years ago. I had gardened 99.9% organically since 1999 (and even before that I didn't use synthetic pesticides more than maybe once a year and didn't like them either) so felt I understood organic gardening pretty well already, but really enjoyed the book anyway as it helped me understand some of the science behind some common organic practices. I like his scientific approach to studying organic practices to see what actually does work and what doesn't work and I like his explanations about why some things work and others don't seem to. Before I got the book, I was concerned that maybe he was sort of anti-organic, as many other university horticulture professors seem to be, but he isn't. His explanations on every topic in the book just blow me away in their thoroughness and in the way he looks at all sides of an issue. I really love this book, and have been meaning to get his other book and read it too. One section early in this book really gave me a lot of food for thought. It was subtitled "How organic is organic enough?" and made me rethink some long-held beliefs.

    From the first day we broke ground here (and, lol, we broke ground for our first garden here a year before the builder broke ground to build the house), my primary focus always has been on building healthy soil. If you focus on building healthy soil that is rich in organic matter, all your other garden problems become minor issues. However, building healthy soil takes time, especially if you are doing it in drought years when there is very little moisture. It took me a good ten years to get our soil to the point that I really was happy with its improvement, and at least half those years were horrendous drought years when nothing I did seemed to keep the garden as happy and as productive as I wanted it to be. (Rain does make a huge difference, as does the absense of rain.)

    Conversely, without healthy soil teeming with microbes, it is hard to have a healthy organic garden. I have focused so long on feeding the soil and letting the soil feed the plants that it is hard for me to suggest to someone that maybe there are times when a synthetic fertilizer would be beneficial, but there are times when it is....and your situation is likely to be one of them. I used Miracle Grow liquid fertilizer without hesitation in our early years here when the soil wasn't yet in good shape and didn't feel bad about it. I still use the Miracle Grow Moisture Control soil-less mix for growing on seedlings (after starting them in a sterile, soil-less mix) and I use it in all my containers at times, though I still add all the rotted wood and leaf mold and compost that I can to the containers as well. (Growing in containers is an entirely different process from growing in the ground, so you have to adapt your practices accordingly,and I learned that slowly and the hard way over many years of growing in containers.)

    In 2007 we had so much rain that my plant roots stayed waterlogged, and it was foliar feeding with Miracle Grow that saved the tomato and pepper plants and gave us a harvest that summer. Otherwise, I think we would have gotten almost nothing from the constantly-waterlogged garden. At that point, our soil was not in the fine condition that the soil in the raised beds now is in. Last year, we had more than twice as much rain as we had in 2007 (78" versus 2007's 37" or 38"), and the soil is so much better now that I didn't have the same issues with plant roots being too clogged with water to function properly and I didn't have to foliar feed with anything. It is amazing what a difference a few more years of soil improvement has made. Oh, and I should clarify---it wasn't that the rainfall was so heavy overall in 2007 as our rainfall barely was average for the year overall, it is just that so much of it fell in late spring and early summer all at once that the heavy moisture overwhelmed the plant roots). If I learned anything at all from last year's flooding and constant moisture, it was that we finally, maybe, had the soil I'd been working so hard to achieve, in all ut the newest raised beds (and they still have a long way to go).

    Every year has its own challenges. In a drought year, as long as I water with soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines, I never have to use a fungicide at all---not a synthetic one and not an organic one. The challenge in that sort of year isn't foliar disease like it is in a very wet year, it is simply the lack of moisture, the often insane heat, and the traveling hordes of grasshoppers that fly in from adjacent fields and can strip a garden bare in just a day or two. You just deal with whatever happens in any given year, learn from that year, and use what you learned the next time we have a year with similar weather. One of the challenges of growing here is that one year we'll have hot weather and almost no rain and the next year it will be much milder and wetter and we almost forget what heat and drought can do to a garden. It seems we rarely have the same weather two years in a row, so often we're scrambling to deal with whatever Mother Nature throws at us. It keeps us on our toes.

    Dawn

    hazelinok thanked Okiedawn OK Zone 7
  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    Instead of making a new thread on aphids, I pulled this one back up.

    I had planned to pull out the peas today. They're not looking great, so decided to plant pole beans instead. However, as I picked the last few peas, I noticed a LOT of ladybugs on them. THEN noticed aphids on my hand.

    My English peas (that I pulled a couple of weeks ago) also were covered in aphids. Honestly, I just thought my peas were getting old and the temp too hot and that's why they were sick-ish. It's the aphids, not age or temperature.

    So....I left the peas on their poles. Not because I want the plants at this point, but the ladybugs are really enjoying them. I need advice: What would you do? Pull the peas and plant the beans OR leave the peas as a ladybug factory?What if there are ladybug babies on the plants. I don't want to throw those out.

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    7 years ago

    I'd pull the plants and put them on the compost pile. The ladybugs will continue to feast on the aphids on the plants while they can, and then they'll move on to something else. Both ladybugs and their larvae are highly mobile and simply move from one plant to another to find food. You don't have to worry that by pulling the peas, you somehow are denying the ladybugs nourishment. They'll find something else to eat. Then, plant whatever you want in the area vacated by the peas. It is getting hot and if you leave peas in the garden now, the plants quickly will get powdery mildew and you don't want that popping up in your garden.

  • Nancy RW (zone 7)
    6 years ago

    I so appreciated this discussion, HJ and Dawn. We're getting ready to go to Lowe's and I was looking for stuff on insecticidal soaps, insecticides in general.

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    6 years ago

    With insecticidal soaps, I prefer the Safer's brand, but any commercial one will do. Just be careful not to apply too much in hot weather or it can burn foliage. Homemade substitutes are much more prone to cause damage. If I was making my own at home (and I could, because I always have at the very least the Dr. Bronner's peppermint, lavandar and tea tree oil liquid soaps, and also Fels-Naptha bars as well), I'd be careful always always always, no exceptions, to not make them too strong. Lots of people use Dawn dishwashing detergent which is totally wrong and much more likely to damage plants. Detergents have added ingredients that pure soaps do not. I have a Grandma's lye bar soap (from Lehman's) in my kitchen and it is so gentle and safe that I'd use it in the garden. I'd never use Dawn on any plants I want to live.

    I'm not much of one for actually using insecticide. I prefer to let the good bugs kill the bad bugs, but there are a few bad bugs for which that strategy doesn't work because either there are no beneficial insects that eat those bad bugs, or the bad bugs reproduce too quickly. For those, I usually hand pick, drop in water to drown or snip in half with scissors. The score yesterday was Dawn 3 (2 stink bugs, 1 cucumber beetle) and bugs 0. I lint rollered them.